Firefox Desktop Turns Your Browser Into an Operating System (sort of)

ffdesktop7Firefox only:  With the advent of cloud computing and sites such as Gmail, Google Docs, and even the online version of Photoshop, it is clear that desktop computing as we know it is beginning to shift towards an internet environment.  Browsers are quickly becoming the focal point of all our daily computing tasks, which easily explains the recent popularity of netbooks and mini computers.

Desktop is an extension for Firefox that transforms your New Tab window into a virtual browser-based desktop.  Websites are displayed as icons using a screenshot of the page itself (or a custom image), and you can add search widgets as well as folders to sort your favorite pages.

To install Desktop, head over to the Desktop Add-on page.  Desktop is an experimental add-on for Firefox (meaning that it hasn’t been extensively tested by the public yet), but I have not experienced any crashes or problems with it.  In order to install it, you’ll have to check the “Let me install this experimental add-on” box and then the Add To Firefox button, as shown below.

ffdesktop

Once installed and after restarting your browser, creating a new tab (which can be done under File –> New Tab or by pressing CTRL + T) will open up a blank page which is your Firefox desktop.  I didn’t like the plain white background, so the first thing I did was change it by right clicking on the desktop and selecting Preferences, then adding one of the Firefox backgrounds I found here.

Adding websites to the desktop can be done easily by right clicking on the desktop and selecting
Add –>Thumbnail.

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In the next menu, you can type in the URL of the site you want to add to your desktop (and it will automatically suggest sites out of your history).  You can even specify a custom image for the desktop icon, but if left empty it will load a thumbnail of the website’s main page.

ffdesktop3

Icons are drag-and-drop and can be resized or removed by clicking the X in the top right corner.  To better organize your websites, you can right click and select Add –> Folder which will create an icon for what is basically a secondary desktop.  Clicking the newly created icon will take you to a new desktop where you can add additional icons, and to return simply click the Back button in your browser.  To get an updated image of the contents of your folder, you can right click the refresh button in the top right corner as shown below.

ffdesktop4

Finally, you can add a search widget to your desktop by right clicking and selecting Add –> Search.  By default it will add your default Firefox search (mine being Google), but by clicking the small circular button in the top right of the widget you will have access to any search provider you have added to Firefox.

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If you’d like to see your Firefox Desktop as the first page when the browser opens, you can go to Tools –> Options in Firefox and under the Main tab set your homepage to chrome://desktop/content/desktop.html

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Desktop for Firefox provides a new and unique way to view your favorite websites.  If you’ve created an interesting or useful Firefox Desktop, share it with us in the comments (and you can check out the desktop I created in the image below).

ffdesktop7

How To: Check Your Hard Drive Health With A Linux LiveCD

Previously, I wrote a guide on monitoring your drive’s status with S.M.A.R.T. tools from a running system [see Check your HDD’s S.M.A.R.T. Status].  Although these programs work well for checking the live status of your hard drive, you may run across a situation where you cannot boot the operating system to access these programs.

If you system does not boot, it may be necessary to use a boot disc to check the S.M.A.R.T. status of your hard drive.  This is easily done with a Linux LiveCD such as Knoppix and a program called smartctl.  Although almost all versions of Linux come with this utility preinstalled, I recommending using Knoppix for booting your system, as it tends to have better out-of-the-box hardware support, especially for older hardware.

Important Note: For reasons unknown, the smartctl utility is not included in the newest version of Knoppix 6.0.1.  For this reason, it is necessary to use Knoppix 5.3.1 DVD or Knoppix 5.1.1 CD/DVD.

Download Knoppix 5.1.1 LiveCD via FTP.

Download Knoppix 5.3.1 LiveDVD via BitTorrent.

The Process

Once you have downloaded and burned the LiveCD ISO image, insert the disc into your CD/DVD drive and boot from it.  Unless there are hardware problems, your computer will automatically boot to the KDE Linux Desktop.  If you are not able to boot, enter failsafe at the Boot: prompt.  The KDE desktop looks like this:

Knoppix 5.3.1 Desktop
Knoppix 5.3.1 Desktop

When the desktop is shown, select the terminal icon as shown below.

knoppix-terminal-icon

Type the following command to check the first hard drive on the system:

smartctl –all /dev/hda | less

This will check the S.M.A.R.T. attributes of the hard drive and display then on the screen in scrollable form.  A description of the common attributes can be found here.

When you have reviewed the S.M.A.R.T. attributes of your drive, you can simply press q to return to the terminal input.  Type reboot at there terminal to reboot the computer and eject the LiveCD.

How often have you used a Linux LiveCD to help diagnose your computer?  Is there another Linux program or LiveCD that you use to check your hard drive S.M.A.R.T. status?  Let us know by commenting below.

Facebook Releases Desktop Application, Aptly Named Facebook Desktop

fbdesktop6Facebook – the world’s fastest growing social network – wants to keep you connected to your social network without the web browser.  Using their newly released Facebook Desktop application, you can connect with friends, view your stream, and publish information right from your desktop computer.

To install Facebook Desktop, you first need to install the free Adobe AIR platform.  Since it is based on Adobe AIR, Facebook Desktop can be installed in Windows, Mac, or Linux [check out our guide on installing AIR in Ubuntu].  Once you’ve installed AIR, simply download and extract the Facebook Desktop installer to get started.

To install the application, double click the extracted Facebook_Desktop_for_AIR.air file and approve its installation as shown below.

fbdesktop2

Next, the application will ask you to sign in to Facebook and provide your approval for the application to access your News Feed and Wall, as well as publish posts and comments.

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Once you’ve jumped through the authorization hoops, you’ll be presented with a News Feed much like the one you see on the Facebook homepage.  From here you can browse your friends’ news and statuses, comment and “like” updates, and publish your own updates using the “What’s on your mind?” box at the top.

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Facebook Desktop provides a clean and easy-to-use user interface for getting the latest information from your social network.  The initial version of this application is very simplistic and clearly intends on furthering the “Twitterization” of Facebook – but you really can’t blame them for trying the same methods that have made Twitter so popular.

Have any thoughts about the Facebook Desktop application?  Do you think Facebook’s attempts at redesigning their user content have been beneficial?  Share it in the comments!

Gmail Labs Adds Google Web Search, Never Leave Gmail Again

Let’s face it: Gmail is fantastic and Gmail Labs keeps adding features we didn’t realize we couldn’t live without.  New to Gmail Labs this week is the Google Search “experiment” which allows you to perform a Google web search through a sidebar widget – all without ever leaving Gmail.  The next time you’re in the middle of writing an email and can’t remember the definition of the word ‘Luddite’, you can easily look up the answer without missing a step.

For those of you that are new to Gmail Labs, they are additional features that Gmail offers on an experimental basis with the disclaimer that they may “change, break, dissapear at any time”.  However, most of these features are so useful that they will no doubt be included in future versions of Gmail.

Adding Google Search in Gmail is very easy.  Head over to the Google Labs tab under Settings (you’ll have to log in to Gmail) and scroll down to the “Google Search”  experiment.  Click the Enable button and select Save Changes at the bottom of the page.

gmailgooglesearch1

Once Google Search has been enabled, you will now have access to the Google Search sidebar widget (shown below) anywhere in Gmail.

gmailgooglesearch2

When you perform a Google Search using the sidebar widget, the results will load in a Google Chat-esque box which displays in the corner of your screen and can be minimized or moved into its own separate window.

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Each result contains a drop-down box that gives you options based on what you are currently doing in Gmail.  If you’re reading an email, you can choose to begin a reply to that email with a link to the search result.  If you’re writing a message (as shown above), you can paste the result in the email or past just the URL.  If you’re currently in Google Chat via Gmail, you can send the result through chat.

One additional tip: If you’ve added several Google Labs features to your sidebar, you may find it getting pretty cluttered.  To deal with this, you can enable the “Navbar drag and drop” feature in Gmail Labs which allows you to easily drag-and-drop widgets anywhere you like in the sidebar.

What are your favorite Gmail Labs features?  What are some features you’d like to see in the future?  Tell us about it in the comments.

Windows 7 Release Candidate to Launch Late April/Early May

windows7featured2Microsoft has announced that a release candidate version of Windows 7 (a version with potential to be the final product) will be released to developers via MSDN and TechNet networks on April 30th, and more publicly on May 5th.

Windows 7, which was released as a semi-public beta in January, has initially been well received and appears to have significant performance improvements over Windows Vista.  Along with a shorter boot time, Windows 7 will offer better driver support, improved graphical and productivity features, and a more intelligent version of UAC.

Despite Vista’s shortcomings, the immaturity of 3rd-party hardware drivers at launch was one of the biggest contributing factors to its unpopularity.  If Microsoft can ensure better driver support when Windows 7 is released, they should be able to avoid the negative stereotypes that are still plaguing the company.

Microsoft has not officially announced a release date for Windows 7 yet, but Microsoft’s chief financial officer Chris Liddell says it may be as early as July 2009.

Update 04/30/09:  Microsoft has released Windows 7 RC1 to TechNet and MSDN subscribers. [via Microsoft PressPass]

System Requirements:

  • 1GHz or faster 32-bit (x86) or 64-bit (x64) processor
  • 1 GB of RAM (32-bit)/2 GB of RAM (64-bit)
  • 16 GB of available disk space (32-bit)/20 GB (64-bit)
  • DirectX 9 graphics device with Windows Display Driver Model 1.0 or higher driver

Have any thoughts about Windows 7?  Share them in the comments!

How To: Add Panels (Toolbars) to a Secondary Display in Ubuntu 9.04

If you’re using multiple monitors in Ubuntu, you may find it frustrating that the Panels (Windows users will recognize these as toolbars) are only available on your primary display.  This means that if you’re working with applications on a secondary monitor, you have to look back to your primary to do any application switching, as shown below:

panels

Adding panels to a secondary monitor is not difficult, but is not particularly intuitive either.  Here’s how to do it:

  1. Right click on any panel and select New Panel. By default, this will probably create a Panel on the right side of your primary display.panels2
  2. Right click the newly created Panel and select Properties.panels3
  3. Set Orientation to Bottom and uncheck the Expand button.  This will create a small movable Panel at the bottom of your primary display.panels4
  4. Drag the new Panel to your secondary display, allowing it to automatically dock to the bottom of the screen.
  5. Right click the Panel and select Properties again.
  6. Check the Expand box and click Close.  Now that you have a full length Panel on your secondary display, we need to make it display a list of your open applications.
  7. Right click the Panel and select Add To Panel.panels5
  8. Type Window List into the search box and click the Add button.panels6
  9. If necessary, you can adjust the position of the Window List by grabbing the far left end and sliding it to a desired location.

There are dozens of additional items you can add to your newly created Panel, so feel free to play around with it and come up with an ideal customized setup.

Have any tips on creating the perfect workspace?  Share them in the comments!

How To: Install Adobe AIR in Ubuntu 9.04

adobe_airAdobe AIR is a platform that allows software developers to build rich Internet applications that run outside the browser on multiple operating systems.  A few examples of applications that are based on the Adobe AIR platform are Twhirl and TweetDeck.

To install Adobe AIR in Ubuntu:

  1. Navigate to http://get.adobe.com/air/ and click the “Download Now” button.
  2. Open Terminal (under Applications –> Accessories –> Terminal)
  3. Navigate to the directory where you saved the Adobe AIR .bin file (AdobeAIRInstaller.bin).
  4. Type chmod +x AdobeAIRInstaller.bin and press enter.
  5. Type sudo ./AdobeAIRInstaller.bin and press enter.

The typically Adobe AIR installer will now open and follow the on-screen instructions.  Once the Adobe AIR framework has been installed, you can launch any .air file and it will automatically be installed.

How To: Install and Configure Nvidia Drivers in Ubuntu 9.04

ubuntu-logo1Although Ubuntu has fantastic driver support in recent editions, I had some initial difficulty getting the Nvidia graphics drivers (for my GeForce 8600GT) properly installed and configured in Ubuntu 9.04 “Jaunty Jackalope”.  The built-in video drivers supported multiple monitors, but I was only able to drag windows halfway across the secondary monitor before they would become “stuck”.  In addition, graphical shading and transparency effects were nonexistant.

Introduction

In previous versions of Ubuntu, I recall being prompted to install and enable Nvidia’s restricted video drivers (these drivers are not enabled by default because they are not open source and freely available).  However, I was not prompted to enable any restricted video drivers in 9.04 so I had to acquire the drivers manually.

This process is fairly straightforward, but be warned: it does involve the use of the Terminal and you should only proceed if you know how to work in that environment.  For you intrepid readers, feel free to check out a crash course in Terminal to better prepare yourself.

Procedure

  1. Open the Terminal (Under Applications –> Accessories –> Terminal).
  2. Type sudo apt-get install nvidia-glx-180 and press enter.  If prompted, enter your administrator password.
  3. Note: nvidia-glx-180 is currently the most recent version of Nvidia’s Linux drivers at the time of this writing.  To make sure you’re getting the most recent drivers, check out Nvidia’s driver page.

  4. Once the Nvidia drivers have been successfully installed, you will need to reconfigure Xorg.conf, which is a file specifying the display settings for your system.  This can be done automatically by typing the command sudo nvidia-xconfig and pressing enter.
  5. Restart the X server.  This can be done easily by logging out of Ubuntu and logging back in, but if you still have problems a restart will work as well.
  6. Nvidia drivers are now installed!
  7. To enable multiple monitors:
    1. Open up the Terminal again and type sudo nvidia-settings (this is also available under System –> Administration –> Nvidia X Server Settings).  This will open a Nvidia monitor configuration window.
    2. Locate your secondary monitor, which will probably be displayed as (Disabled).
    3. Select the monitor and click Configure, then select TwinView.  Press OK.
    4. Click Save to X Configuration File, then click Apply.
    5. Your multiple monitors should now function properly.

Once the Nvidia drivers are installed, you’ll notice better visual effects and full-fledged multiple monitor support.

Have any tips or suggestions involving Nvidia drivers and Ubuntu?  Share them in the comments!

Ubuntu 9.04 “Jaunty Jackalope” Released

ubuntu-logo1Ubuntu – currently the world’s most popular Linux distribution – released it’s newest version today named “Jaunty Jackalope” which offers some major improvements over previous versions.  Available in desktop, server, and netbook editions, Ubuntu 9.04 offers faster boot-up times (23 seconds on a solid state drive!), better device compatibility, and new software such as Firefox 3 and OpenOffice.org 3.0.

In the back-end, Ubuntu 9.04 includes Gnome 2.26 which boasts better multi-monitor handling, as well as X.org server 1.6 which provides support for new video cards and better video performance.  Long-time Ubuntu users will notice a new notification style and preferences and added support for the Ext-4 file system.

Ubuntu 9.04 server edition comes equipped with Eucalyptus, which is an open source technology that allows users to create their own private cloud computing servers.

Check back for guides and reviews of Ubuntu 9.04 and Ubuntu-related software coming soon.

Apple’s App Store Hits One Billion Downloads

app_storeAt approximately 2pm on April 23rd, 2009 the 1,000,000,000th application was downloaded from Apple’s App Store since it first launched only nine months ago.  Although the App Store has had its fair share of problems (and it seems that developers are still getting stuck in the application approval process), this statistic is a significant milestone for the company.

Which applications do you like the most?  Some of my favorites are Tweetie, Pandora, and Air Sharing.  Share in the comments!

[via Apple]